Bill to bolster aviation security approved by Senate panel

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that aims to solve ongoing security problems in the aviation industry.

The bill, S.2393, seeks to bolster security for cargo and around airport perimeters, establish higher screening standards and deploy advanced technologies for screening baggage, among other provisions. The panel approved the bill by voice vote.

Before endorsing the legislation, the panel also approved by voice vote a substitute amendment to incorporate additional security provisions.

The language would require the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a system for issuing pilot's licenses to protect against tempering, counterfeiting or stole identifications. The provision requires the FAA to include digital photographs and unique identifiers such as a scanned fingerprints or irises on the licenses. It also would authorize $50 million in fiscal 2005 for the initiative.

The amendment further would: require charter aircraft carriers to put the names of passengers and individuals renting aircraft through the Transportation Security Administration; mandate that the Homeland Security Department increase inspected cargo; require the department to report on the threat of shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs; and require two other reports on screening devices to detect chemical and plastic explosives and the number of air marshals.

The underlying legislation would require the department to develop screening standards at the nation's airports to ensure that the "average aviation-security-related delay experienced by airline passengers does not exceed 10 minutes," according to a bill summary.

The measure would develop a grant program to develop, test, purchase and deploy advanced devices to screen air cargo. It also would require that cargo-aircraft operators build carriers (including hardened cockpit doors) between the aircraft flight decks and cargo compartments. The Homeland Security secretary further would need to outline a schedule for replacing trace-detection equipment used to screen checked baggage with explosive-system equipment.

And the measure would authorize funds for advanced explosive-detection systems; portal devices to detect biological, radiological and explosive materials; research and development of biometrics technology; and airport perimeter security.

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